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Protecting Natural Reserve from Naval Base Construction

Protecting Natural Reserve from Naval Base Construction

Written by Lee Yoo Eun
Posted 4 June 2011

As one of South Korea's Natural Heritage sites is on the verge of being replaced by a pile of cement from naval base construction work, local residents and civic activists are waging a fierce battle to rescue the site.

The opposition stress that the naval base construction will not only turn one of the nation's most treasured site into a cement tomb, but the launching of a naval base on the island also could jeopardize the Korean peninsula's peace. More and more South Korean Tweeters and bloggers are joining the movement.

Jeju Island is the country's largest, most visited island, situated at the southwest of the Korean Peninsula. It was named a Natural World Heritage Site because of its volcanic islets and its lava tubes which are worth preserving.

The island is well-preserved, free of contamination and disease from the mainland. Jeju is a designated Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. It is also a Marine Reserve zone selected by the Korean Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries.

Local residents and activists are particularly concerned about the Gureombi Rock in the Jeju island's GangJeong village. The Gureombi is a collection of broad lava-formed rocks and stones spread over the seashore, a geographically important structure and home to numerous endangered species.

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The ongoing conflict, between the protesters on one side and the Navy and the concerned government departments on the other, goes back three years. Starting from May 2007 when the final decision was made to select GangJeong as the construction site for a naval base, local residents started protests and activists have arrived on the island to help them fight a lonely battle. On December 2010, 32 protesters and two local residents were arrested for attempting to disrupt the Navy's ground-breaking ceremony for the naval base.

International support

More activists and citizens started joining the protest from March 2011 and it has gathered strength in the Twittersphere.

Apart from the Protect GangJeong homepage [ko], the Protect GangJeong Facebook page [ko] was set up and two Tweeters (@kimseriiii and @thinkunit) are live-tweeting about the protest from Jeju. The project even has a Protect GangJeong Facebook badge [ko] where Facebook users can get a GangJeong badge to attach to their profile image.
In late May, celebrated American linguist and activist Noam Chomsky, responding to an email sent by a Jeju activist group, wrote that he found it “very disturbing to hear” about the “ominous plans for the huge naval base”. (Full content of Chomsky's email).

On June 1, a national scale coalition was formed to preserve GangJeong. Jeju's civic activist, Kim Ah-hyun (@eyedaho) tweeted [ko] this welcoming news:

Forty-four various organizations and groups across the nation have agreed to form a coalition protesting against the naval base construction in Jeju. We welcome this news with open arms.

Protect the environment and PEACE

An assistant movie director, Kim Se-ri (@kimseriiii) who is spearheading the movement, explained more on the GangJeong Village and the construction scale in a web page named The Gangjeong is Alive.

The area starting from the Gureombi shore and the Bum islet is a UNESCO designated Biosphere Reserve because it is a habitat of various coral reefs. This planned construction site is also a designated Absolute Preservation Zone according to the Jeju Municipal Ordinance. On the land, historical artifacts are buried en masse and (the under the sea area) is a natural habitat of endangered species. […] The Ministry of National Defense and the Navy plan to build a naval base on GangJeong's shore. The area they want to reclaim is about 120 thousand square pyeong (near 40 square hectares) in total - which would be the biggest land reclamation work in Jeju's construction history.

An anti-war and anti-nuke American activist, Bruce K. Gagnon from the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space wrote in his blog:

It is important to remember that the U.S. Navy will be porting Aegis destroyers (outfitted with “missile defense” systems) at this base. The proximity of the base on Jeju Island to China's shipping lanes, that they use to import 80% of their oil, is no coincidence. It is beyond obvious that this base is absolutely going to contribute to further militarization of the Asian-Pacific region and will in fact be a dangerous trigger for war.

Live-tweeting the movement.

Kim Se-ri has been tweeting [ko] about the ongoing protest for over a month now. Kim tweeted:

[Video Taken in Undersea World] The UNESCO-designated Biosphere Reserve and also one of the Absolute Preservation Areas selected by the Korean Ministry of Environment: ‘Jungduck shore of GangJeong Village'. Curious about how this place would look like under the water? Click

Kim tweeted the link [ko] to another video:

[Video] Pods of dolphins are dancing in the Jungduck sea of Gangjung Village, Jeju island. Please save this place from turning into a pile of cement. We need your signature here:

To explain why this means so much to some people, Kim tweeted [ko] an interview video with English subtitles. The interviewee, Yang Yoon-mo is a former Korean Association of Film Critics Chairman. Yang was arrested two months ago for trying to block a construction truck from entering the site and he waged a hunger strike for about two months in jail. Yang was finally released from jail [ko] on June 1: [Video] Yang is on the 57th day of hunger strike. Movie critique Yang Yoon-mo spoke about the major talking points on the Jeju naval base. The title of the video is the Island of Stone.

A sticker which reads "Go GangJeong!". Image by @ilgangjeong, posted on Cafe Peacekj, used with permission.

Kim also tweeted [ko] about how to get a ‘Protect GangJeong' banner and stickers: Let us Protect GangJeong Village all togheter] Contact @kimseriiii to write down your signature to scrap the plan. Contact @thinkunit to order a banner. Contact @ilgangjeong to get car stickers.

There are a few local residents actually siding with the construction of the naval base. South Korea's progressive newspaper, Hankyoreh pointed out [ko] that some residents are too tired of the continuing conflicts which have almost ruined their daily lives.

Another key member of the movement @thinkunit admitted in a tweet [ko] that some local taxi drivers were positive towards the construction plan for the financial benefit the naval base will bring.

The Ministry of National Defense stressed that Gangjeong village of Jeju is a strategically perfect spot for the Navy to secure the nation's economic efficiency. However, activists, such as a movie director Park Sung-mi (@sungmi1), stressed in her tweet [ko] that the Defense Ministry had publicly withdrawn their “Ocean Navy Strategy” which has served as justification for pressing through the construction plan against the resident's wishes in the first place.


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